It is a subtle thing. I have to put down, again and again, the thinking mind that thinks it knows what-it-will-be-like, and let go, let go, let go again, into what-is-actually-happening. It’s always a surprise. Never what I expected. So simple, yet so satisfying. And elusive, as my grabbing-on-to-what-I-think-I-know mind keeps slip-sliding back in and obscuring my direct experience. Again and again I fall back into thinking and out of experiencing.
Just now, I went to sit in the lime orchard with Jack and Spirit. I had in mind that I might practice the exercise I worked out with Stina a few days ago – setting up a sort of hide and seek game for Jack, to help me practice companion walking and leading from behind, as well as creating more glue between us. Fortunately I started by just sitting down, in a chair in the shade of a tree. It was hot, hot, hot. No breeze, insects buzzing and biting and irritating, sweat pouring down my face, dripping off my chin. My mind jumped from here to there, insect, itch, scratch, sigh, adjust position, where are the horses? What does it mean that they’re facing away from me? Oh! They’ve turned towards me, is that better? or just an accident? Hmm, a breeze touching my skin, how delicious, what a relief… Is that the sound of the ocean waves crashing on the beach below?
Feeling cooler, stiller…… That’s nice bird song….. Slowing down….. Hmm, here they come, that’s nice…. They smell good…. Mmmm, feeling better…. Breathing in, breathing out…. Here’s Jack, sidling close, asking to put his nose as near to mine as he can….. He’s polite, I say yes, we share breaths……. He smells of grass….. his bottom lip droops, his eyelids flutter….. I gently waft some flies off his side…… Spirit comes in behind him…. That’s nice, she’s usually a bit more distant…. Breathing in, breathing out, sharing breaths….. dropping off…. My eyelids flutter…. We all sigh…. What it is to have my head so close to Jack’s and trust him, his big teeth, big, powerful body standing so close… we sleep a little… I half open my eyes and his head is the whole of my vision…. We breathe, we snooze, we trust….. It is delicious…. My heart opens…. Am I holding space for them, or them for me?…. it doesn’t matter…. We share, we respond to each other’s shifts and sighs….. we hear a sound, we check it out, we reassure each other, we go back to breathing together… everything smells good, sounds good, feels good…. Feels safe…. Feels like a gift.
Not long ago, we were all battling our way down the hill to their night time field. Jack would stop, plant his feet, refuse to move. I was hot, exasperated, confused, full of ideas and questions about what it meant, and what to do – was he curious? Was he scared? Was he in pain? Was there some reason he didn’t want to go? Should I wait? Insist that he come? How to tell? I felt frustrated – he stopped so Spirit stopped, I would get him going but she wouldn’t come, then he would stop, I’d get her to walk on and he’d plant. At this rate I’d miss the supper bell, there’d be no food left, this is awful…. I felt increasingly irritated, humiliated, as far as I could imagine from the kind, light, gentle horse handler I want to be. Back and forth between waiting and then losing patience and yanking on the lead rope. When we finally got to the field and I let them go, they could hardly wait to get away from me. I apologised to their backs as they walked off….
Insist on politeness
I had a lesson with Stina, we practiced me and Jack walking together. She advised me to mean what I say to him and insist on politeness from him. It was so simple. We stopped and started, stopped and started. She asked me to ask him to step back. Step forward. Stop. Walk on. He was soon listening much more to me, and I was understanding what he needed – if I ask him to walk on but I’m a bit in his way, how can he? If I ask him to walk on but I’m looking at him, not at where I want us to go, I am less clear. If I ask him to do something when I don’t have his attention, he won’t even know that I’m asking. If I let him eat when he grabs, things go downhill; if I stop the eating, walk on til he has disconnected from that moment, then invite him to eat, the whole dynamic changes. If I hold tight and keep the lead rope tight he has no space, can’t be himself, needs to create the space somehow. These are not new things to me. They don’t sound like much. They aren’t much. But the process of that lesson changed our relationship. I ask more clearly, he listens better, we get on better.
In the lime orchard, Spirit wanders to a lime tree close by, starts to scratch her bum on a bit of branch – then stops, and looks at me over her shoulder. Is she really? Actually inviting me to give her a scratch? Trust. I walk over gently – not too gently, not like a predator creeping up on her – and start to scratch. At first it’s a bit of me, a bit of branch, then she steps away, looks at me again, and its full power scratching from me. She makes it clear she does not like me stroking off the loosened up hair, but lets me scratch again. It feels like a blessing, she has been circumspect about touch from me – I’m the one, after all, who has put coconut oil in her ears to deal with ticks, and insisted on grooming her lightly from time to time. She’s let me give her a bit of a scratch on her neck and withers before, but mostly walked off quickly. This feels like another new phase to our relationship.
And there surprisingly, it is. On the one hand, lots of small nothing-much-es. On the other, I have watched Stina, listened to her, tried to put things into practice, spent a lot of time with the horses doing nothing together, walked up and down the hill together a lot of times – and it is all different.
Softer. Communicative. Still clunky in places, of course, but now we’re talking.
– Katannuta, working student.